Tune In

"Can't wait to move out... and actually live somewhere cool..."

Dean was still full of that high school graduation glow, finally done with that crappy Pine Ridge High School, and now, he was already packing some stuff for moving out of state. T-shirts, jeans, a few hoodies (one with an old soy sauce stain; he should throw that one away), mismatched socks, winter gloves, anything he could reach in his chaotic closet and chipped wooden dresser. He wasn't even going to move out for another three weeks. Still felt good to prepare, though. Like he had one foot out of Fountainhead, Pennsylvania, already.

Fountainhead's little population of just over 9,000 was about to get a little smaller.

Dean checked the analogue clock ticking on his wall, nestled between his crinkled Marilyn Manson poster and an even bigger Dawn of the Dead poster. 11:14 PM already? Today had really gone by in a blur! Dean shrugged and sat on the edge of his twin-size bed, tapping his bare feet on the dark red carpet. Should he just go to bed? He could hear his dad Frank snoring on the couch downstairs, halfway through an old Friends rerun. Mmmmmmmm... sleep...

But first, might as well see what was good on the radio, that old-fashioned thing Dean had gotten from his grandmom that he kept around for some reason. He switched the ugly old thing on and got only loud static.

Dammit! Dean jumped at the sudden noise and cranked the tuning dial until he got 94.9, the local pop rock station. A hit from late last year came on, struggling to play through the wet static and garbled background noise.

Was this old radio finally crapping out? Dean frowned and tried another station, 95.8. Some old R&B song choked its way out of the speaker, wheezing tiredly. Jeez! This old piece of crap... Dean kept roving around the radio waves, and every station came out either fuzzy or just static. Wasn't there a decent station...? He cranked it just past 100, and a clear, quiet voice came on.

"Gonna cut you up like a fish, y'know... nice and slow. I'm gonna enjoy this."

Then another voice, a young man's: "You're fucking sick, old man! C'mon! I never did nothin' to you!"

"Hold still, boy. This gets messy when they start moving..."

Then came the sound of cold metal carving into warm flesh, a ripping and squelching noise -

"God!" Dean wrenched the dial back to the garbled 94.9, his skin tingling, cold sensations shooting down his spine. Was that a radio drama? But it sounded so real, and that old man carving into that kid... somehow, Dean knew it was real. Was... was that shit live? Was someone in danger?!

Breathing hard, bracing himself as though to jump off a cliff, Dean slowly reached over and turned the dial back, just past 100 again. He scrambled back on his bed when he heard the cutting and squelching noises again, this time accompanied by low, pained moaning, and an old man's wheezing breath.

Where the fuck... where is that? Dean had his iPhone out before he knew what he was doing, 911 already dialled.

"911. What is your emergency?" came a woman's voice.

"Someone's been kidnapped," Dean said, his breath shaky. "A-a guy my age, like 18 or 20. Getting cut up. You gotta send someone!"

"Can you tell me anything else?" the woman asked patiently but firmly.

"U-uh... well... I can hear it..."

"Are you near the scene of the crime?" the woman said sharply.

Dean shook his head automatically. "It's on... on the radio. Isn't there a station just past 100 around here?"

The woman sighed. "We don't have a radio station between 99.4 and 102.3, son. You must be picking up stray signals from somewhere."

"But... someone's in danger!"

"Is there anything else you can tell me? Any leads?"

Dean felt himself go slack. "I... no. Sorry. It's nothing." He hung up.

He grabbed the radio and held it in his hands, pressing the speaker close to his face, despite his revulsion. More cutting noises, the old man humming as he did his grisly work...

Then the old man whistled. "Lucky Lou! Come here, boy! Got some more for you! You hungry?" A dog barked.

Dean dropped the radio. It cracked and went dead.

Lucky Lou had been Mr. Gardner's dog.

He had been dead for six years.

*o*o*o*o*

"Oh. You're Dean, right? What brings you here?"

Mr. Garcia perked up when Dean stepped into Fountainhead's radio studio, all smiles. He kept his graying hair slicked back, a cigar clamped in his mouth.

Dean shuffled in, meekly waving hello. Outside, the sky threatened yet more rain. "Hey, Mr. Garcia. Doing okay?"

"Just fine, my boy," Mr. Garcia said. "I'm almost finished with my lunch break... what brings you around here?"

"Uh..." Dean glanced over his shoulder at the double glass doors. Nothing was there. Why had he looked? "My grandmom's radio was acting kinda weird last night. Picked up... something. Thought you'd know about it."

Mr. Garcia gave him a quizzical look. "Maybe. What's the problem?"

Dean drew a deep breath. "Did you guys recently start a station around 100? Like, between exactly 100 and 101?"

"Hmmmmmm? No, we haven't." Mr. Garcia smoothed his beige polo shirt and puffed on his cigar. "Did you get something in that range?"

"I... yeah." Dean shifted on one foot. "I dunno how to describe it..." His heart beat painfully in his chest. That sound of Mr. Gardner carving up a kid with a knife, calling over his dog, Lucky Lou... to eat...?

Mr. Garcia made a sympathetic noise. "Are you all right, Dean? You're pale."

"I think I picked up an old radio drama or something," Dean lied. "My grandmom's old radio was wearing out, anyway."

Mr. Garcia shrugged. "I'm sorry, Dean, but we didn't broadcast anything like that last night."

Dean whirled around and raced for the door. "Sorry to bother you. H-have a good day." He scrambled into his '98 Toyota and twisted the key in the ignition. On the drive up here, on the outskirts of town, he'd avoided turning on the radio. Some superstitious dread had stopped him.

He tuned it in and the display showed station 100.5.

"He lied to me... lied! Richard, why'd you do it? Oh my God... I-I'm not good enough for you anymore, am I? I knew this would happen... that you'd l-leave me..."

A drunken woman's anguished sobbing came softly through the car's speakers. Followed by the sound of a cocked hammer. And a gunshot. And the splatter of bone and brains.

"No!" Dean slammed his open palm onto the radio, his scalp itching, the car seeming to close in around him. He switched off the emergency brake, set the car into reverse, and pulled out of his parking spot. He kept one eye on the radio button, as though expecting it to turn on by itself. Stupid... radios don't operate themselves.

There wasn't much traffic out today, a cloudy Saturday morning, except a few trucks and cars passing through from out of town. Dean kept his eyes on the road, determined to make it back to his and his dad's house with his sanity intact.

Past the drugstore, past Mrs. Collins' pet shop, past the bowling alley... Dean stopped at a red light and glanced again at the radio button. The red light glowed steadily, a single bloody eye on an expressionless face. Two trucks rumbled across the intersection as Dean clenched his jaw. No, he shouldn't try it...

He switched the radio on.

"It's okay, Laurie... I'll always be in your thoughts and prayers, won't I?"

A feeble voice spoke over the beep of medical equipment and a young woman's sobbing and pleading with God. Then came a death rattle, and the sound of someone flat-lining, a steady beep to signal life's end.

Dean ground his teeth as he mentally screamed at the light to turn green. Come ON!

A burst of static, then -

"Who are you? Get outta my house!"

"Back up, man! I'll shoot if you don't get on the floor!"

"Get out of my house! Or I'll call the cops! I -"

A sharp bang of gunpowder.

The light turned green, and rubber screeched on pavement as Dean slammed on the accelerator, Fountainhead's little shops flashing by. He narrowly avoided grazing an oncoming Chevy. The other driver honked.

The radio gave off a puff of static.

Dean heard the clink of a needle falling, and a man gasped and moaned, then collapsed on a hard floor. His raspy breathing soon ended.

Did he overdose on something? Dean thought tightly.

The radio gave off another puff of static. Another audio snippet of a suicide, an accident, a murder, a terminally ill patient expiring in a hospital bed... sometimes the people talked, sometimes they were silent. Death was different for different people.

Dean jumped and swore when he heard his own voice coming through over the radio. "No... I don't wanna die... I got accepted into Miami University... I can't go out like this...!" He coughed wetly and groaned in pain, louder and louder, repeatedly begging not to die -

Dean barely saw the silver pickup that slammed into the passenger's side of his car in the open intersection.

*o*o*o*o*

It was a miracle, the doctors said, that Dean survived a T-bone collision like that. Broken bones all along his left side, major head trauma, massive bleeding... months after the crash, Dean had finally put radios out of his mind as he was released from the hospital. He finished packing and got a cab for the nearest airport after saying good-bye to everyone, his suitcase crammed full of stuff.

His dorm at Miami University was pretty nice, too. A bit shabby, but that added character, right? His roommate, Joe, had already set everything up, seeing how the semester had already started. Well, better late than never. Dean unpacked some stuff and sat on his bed, taking in the room.

It was so quiet in here.

He picked up Joe's little radio alarm clock from the nearest table and dialed it to 100, but only got static. He tuned it a bit further until he got a classic rock song, and nodded his head to the beat. He checked the station; right at 100.5.

He felt a flash of anticipation in the back of his mind, staring at the innocuous alarm clock radio, listening to The Who or whatever band was playing. No voices. No screams or knives or needles.

The crash flickered across his mind's eye, and the radio waves' prediction of his death. He'd survived.

No longer marked?

Saved by God?

Did he owe his life to the Devil?

Forget it.

Dean set the alarm clock radio back to its original station, shut it off, and wandered out into the hall. He heard some students laughing and talking over a popular radio song down the hall.

He went the other way.